1. American Express Co. (NYSE: AXP)
American Express is a Buffett holding that dates back to the 1960s. Buffett decided to buy the financial services company’s shares after the stock was rocked by bad loans, losing 50% of its value. At the time, he observed that people were beginning to use credit cards in their daily transactions and recognized the company’s potential to become an American blue chip. Buffett purchased shares at a cost basis of $1.28 billion. By 1999, Berkshire Hathaway owned roughly 50.5 million shares, worth some $6.82 billion. Berkshire holds 151.6 million AXP shares today, roughly the same as his holdings in 1999, adjusted for a stock split that took place in 2000. This position was worth some $12.7 billion at the start of February 2014. Berkshire Hathaway currently owns about 14% of American Express, the largest single stake in the company.
2. The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO)
When Buffett began purchasing Coca-Cola stock in 1988, some analysts thought it will only be a matter of time before other beverage companies would take away Coke’s market share. But the beverage giant of the late 1980s is now a behemoth, and its stock has split multiple times in the past three decades. By 1995, Buffett owned 100 million shares at a cost basis of roughly $1.2 billion. The 200 million shares held at the end of 1999 are now a 400 million share stake after another, more recent stock split – and worth roughly $15 billion as of February 2014. Berkshire Hathaway is Coke’s largest holder with a stake of slightly greater than 9%. It is undoubtedly one of Buffett’s greatest investing triumphs.
3. M&T Bank Corp. (NYSE: MTB)
M&T Bank may not be a household name, but Buffett has been a long-term holder of this stock. In 1999, Berkshire held only 506,930 shares worth some $232.7 million. A 2000 10-for-1 stock split, however, increased Berkshire’s share holding tenfold to 5.06 million. As of February 2014, Buffett’s company owned 5.38 million MTB shares worth almost $600 million. Berkshire Hathaway is the fifth-largest M&T’s shareholder, with a 4.1% stake. It has been somewhat surprising that Buffett has not increased this holding given how small it is relative to Berkshire’s total portfolio.
4. Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG)
P&G has been part of the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio since 1989 — although, back then, the stake was in Gillette. The value of the Gillette position at the end of 1999 was roughly $3.2 billion. When P&G announced the Gillette acquisition, the Oracle of Omaha called it a dream merger and decided to increase his holdings. Buffett amassed a stake of more than 96 million P&G shares at one point, but more recently pared that down to 52.8 million shares, using some of those funds for other acquisitions. Buffett rarely discusses his positions, but this consumer products giant fits the profile of a position he will hold on to forever. Berkshire Hathaway is the fourth largest P&G shareholder now, with a 1.95% stake, worth just over $4 billion as of February.
5. Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC)
Without a doubt, Wells Fargo is Berkshire Hathaway’s biggest holdings — and one of its favored ones. At least it is now. In the 1995 annual report, long before Wells Fargo had embarked on mergers, and long before it became one of the biggest bank powerhouses, Berkshire Hathaway owned about $1.466 billion worth of the stock at a cost basis of only $423.7 million at the time. The company is now Berkshire Hathaway’s largest equity position, with Buffett currently holding more than 463 million shares worth a whopping $20.6 billion as of February 2014. On top of the stake having grown, Buffett has also added to this position just about every quarter since the start of the recession.
6. Graham Holdings Co. (NYSE: GHC)
Graham Holdings — formerly Washington Post Co. — is listed as runner-up on this list. Buffett has been a long-time Washington Post stakeholder since 1973, but Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos recently acquired the media portion of Washington Post. Following Bezos’ acquisition, the remaining assets of the public company were renamed Graham Holdings. Berkshire held slightly more than 1.72 million GHC shares in the last holdings report for 2013, identical to its stake at the end of 1999. As we have seen in recent years, Buffett has shown more than just a passing interest in owning newspapers. We will have to see if he continues to hold a position in the new company without newspaper assets going forward.
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